Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Because everybody knows the tax code is oh-so-funny

TCM is running a night of Tony Randall movies this evening, including The Mating Game at 11:45 PM.

Although TCM is putting the spotlight on Randall, in this movie Paul Douglas starts off the action. He's "Pop" Larkin, a farmer in rural Maryland, who appears to be fairly successful, although he's done it in an unorthodox way" he barters for everything he needs. This, combined with his family's generally unorthodox nature, ticks off neighboring farmer Wendell Burnshaw (Philip Ober). What's an irritated neighbor to do? Why, use the government to bully people you dislike into doing things you want! It's the American way! Burnshaw and his lawyer go to the local IRS office, where the manager promises to put an agent on the case: after all, the IRS, in the cupidity, see anything that might possibly be a pile of money, and think some of it should be theirs. They discover that Larkin hasn't filed a tax return in 20 years. Shades of Lionel Barrymore in You Can't Take It With You.

With that, the IRS sends top agent Lorenzo Charlton (finally we get to Tony Randall) out on the case. He gets to the farm, where he finds that it's not only Pop who's a bit "different"; it's the entire family: Ma (Una Merkel), adult daughter Mariette (Debbie Reynolds), and the younger kids all seem to like the lifestyle the practice on this family farm. Lorenzo asks to see the books, but of course there aren't any books, wince Pop barters for everything. He doesn't need to keep track of money, because if he's got a couple hundred bucks cash, that's a lot. Lorenzo continues the audit, figuring that the farmers must have made profits on their trades: remember that he's from the government and they think everybody owes them. But, as all this is going on, Lorenzo and Mariette are beginning to find that they like each other.

This, needless to say, complicates matters. The Larkins are trying to figure out a way to waylay Lorenzo and keep him from finishing the audit; he, for his part, has bosses who are more than happy to do the audit themselves if Lorenzo is for any reason unable or unwilling to do it. And they're going to be even nastier about it than Lorenzo could ever be. You don't get to a high position in the IRS by being nice to the people from whom you're extracting money! Still, when the boss comes, he winds up discovering something that at least enables the movie to have a happy ending. (Thankfully, it's foreshadowed enough that the ending isn't a deus ex machina ending.)

The Mating Game is intended as good, clean, fun; a fairly light romantic comedy between Randall and Reynolds. There's so much that could be used to make the ideological points I've mentioned earlier in the movie, but of course the movie doesn't have any real intention of going there. The movie doesn't even have as much to say as You Can't Take It With You on such matters. Not that this is a bad thing; even if you have unorthodox views like I do about the state as bully, trying to shoehorn them into a movie like The Mating Game would only make the film heavy-handed.

All of the main players here give nice performances. Nothing special, nothing earth-shattering; just a nice, entertaining, above-average picture. And that's a good thing. The Mating Game has also received a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive.

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